Home Improvement Magazine

Sleep And Sound: Fighting Noise and Sleep Disturbances

By Richard Morse @insidebedroom

Do sleep and sound really go together? Here we shall discuss how noise can affect your sleep quality and sleep pattern. There is no doubt at all that excessive noise can keep you awake at night, or at least disturb your sleep sufficient to waken you or cause you to become restless when sleeping. It can even change your heart rate and your blood pressure although you may not be aware of this when you wake up in the morning. It is our purpose here to discuss how sound impacts your sleep cycle and what you can do to avoid it.

Sleep And Sound: Fighting Noise and Sleep Disturbances

The Effect of Age on Your Sleep Quality and Sleep Pattern

As you age, your body cells will age quicker if you get insufficient sleep. This is in spite of the fact that the older you get, the less likely you are to complain about sleep issues. Just one night without sleep, or with insufficient sleep, can make an older person's body cells age faster. You may not be concerned about this, but the result could be that you contract more diseases than are safe for you. The main reason for lack of sleep is sound - or noise. Below, we discuss sleep and sound and answer the question of how noise affects sleep quality and sleep satisfaction, and also how sound impacts your sleep cycle.

How Noise Affects Sleep Quality and Sleep Satisfaction

There is little doubt that noise affects your sleep quality. In the National Sleep Foundation's 2012 Bedroom Poll 74% of Americans stated that a quiet room was important to get a good night's sleep. So how does noise affect sleep? This is largely because your brain continues to receive sound or noise, and processes it while you sleep. This can lead to changes in your sleep pattern, and as stated above, your pulse rate and blood pressure. These changes are so brief that you are generally unaware of the disturbances when you wake.

Loud noises are likely to startle you out of sleep. How this happens depends on the stage of sleep you are at. Loud noise is more likely to wake you from light sleep (normally during the first 25 minutes) than from a deep sleep. The more frequently you are awakened by noise, the less sleep satisfaction you get. Sure, you will likely fall back to sleep again, but you may not remember any sleep disturbance and once morning comes you will feel unsatisfied with the sleep you got, even though you may be unaware of why this is.

However, not all sounds or noises affect sleep satisfaction and sleep pattern. Sounds that regularly occur in a city, such as traffic or road noise, don't affect city dwellers much because they are used to it and give it little attention. However, such sounds can keep country dwellers, who are visiting the city and staying with friends or in a hotel, awake all night!

How Sound Impacts Your Sleep Cycle

But apart from the above, how does noise affect sleep cycles? A sudden sound can disturb your sleep cycle by waking you up, and continual sounds can prevent you from getting to sleep again. All sound is not bad though, and soothing music or natural sounds such as running water or birdsong can be used to help you sleep. However, a partner's loud snoring or a sudden backfire from a motorbike or car exhaust can waken you up. This has a significant impact on your sleep cycle. So can a barking dog, a storm outside, and general traffic and city noise.

Sources of Noise That Can Disturb Sleep

A common source of noise in the evening, or even during the day, is traffic. If you live in a house or apartment on a busy street, environmental noise from sources such as road, rail, and aircraft traffic can disturb your sleep. So too can other localized noise, such as sounds in a hospital, your home, or even church bells ringing.

Sleep And Sound: Fighting Noise and Sleep Disturbances

At home, TV, dogs barking or even children can interrupt your sleep. Noise at night, which can disturb sleep or even prevent the elderly from getting to sleep, can result in them suffering strokes and cardiovascular disease. Night noise appears to affect elderly people more than daytime exposure to similar sounds. There are, of course, happy sources of sound or noise. Among these is family noise, such as children playing and laughing.

Brain Rhythms and Sleep Disturbance

Noise will generally have its greatest impact on sleep quality and sleep pattern during stage 2 sleep. This is a non-REM sleep cycle that lasts about half the night. Before that stage, people are generally more tolerant of noise. The Cell Press Journal explains this in detail, but with young adult subjects. It also concluded that some people are more sensitive than others to noise while sleeping. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, children are those that loud sounds affect most. This is followed by the elderly, who are less vulnerable than children. Both age groups are susceptible to having their sleep quality and sleep pattern disturbed by noise, though children's hearing can suffer damage the most from loud noises.

Other Factors Involved in Sleep Loss

Substances That Keeps You Awake: There are several other factors involved in sleep loss, not the least of which is what you eat and drink at bedtime. You should avoid drinking coffee, tea, or any other drink that contains caffeine such as Coke or Pepsi unless they are labeled as being caffeine-free. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, contains a substance known as theobromine. This substance causes an increased heart rate and sleeplessness. So, avoid chocolate, even milk chocolate that may contain small amounts of theobromine. It won't be mentioned on an ingredients list because it is not an additive, but is a natural substance contained within the cacao bean, used to make chocolate.

Sleep And Sound: Fighting Noise and Sleep Disturbances

Substances to Help You Sleep: Some foods are good for helping you sleep. Rather than take sleeping pills, which may be addictive so you can never sleep without them, some herbs are good for sleep. Among these are valerian and passionflower, and hops are also good. It's not only the alcohol that sends people to sleep when they have drunk too much beer! A study has shown that 1 or 2 kiwi fruits an hour before bed have been found to help people sleep, and to sleep for longer. They contain serotonin and antioxidants, each of which can help you sleep and have a good effect on your sleep quality.

Noise Vs. Immobility: According to a study carried out by Ugras and Oztekin, 57.6% of patients tested in intensive care units indicated that being in a noisy environment was the second most frequently sleep-disturbing factor. The factor that kept patients awake most in ICU was being kept immobile (63.6%). Gabor and colleagues stated that loud noise accounted for 20.9% of the observed sleep disruption under mechanically ventilated conditions, while the cause of the other 79.1% disruptions was unknown.

Another study on nose reduction strategies in ICUs involved darkening the unit and reducing noise from alarms and talking, and switching off TV, radio, and the phone during "quiet times." The intervention (quiet) times were from 2 am to 4 am and 2 pm to 4 pm. It was found that patients observed during the quiet periods were 1.6 times more likely to be asleep than those during the control (normal) period, irrespective of the periods being at night and in the afternoon.

Effect of Room Acoustics on Sleep Quality: In a test of the effect of room acoustics on sleep, each participant slept for three consecutive nights at three different locations: (a) in a sleep lab, (b) at the participant's home, and (c) at an acoustically isolated room. In the participant's home environment the REM sleep percentage was 15.8 ± 5.5%, the percentage of REM sleep was 14.2 ± 5.1% in the acoustically isolated room which was 4.5% (18 min) less than in the sleep lab.

How to Avoid the Effect of Noise on Sleep Quality

The effect of sound on sleep quality and sleep pattern can be significantly reduced, or even negated, by taking certain actions at bedtime. Children should generally go to bed between 7 pm and 8 pm, though slightly earlier or later may work for some. If you create a calm, soothing atmosphere at home around a half-hour before bedtime, your children will feel more like going to bed. Do not allow TV to be on in your child's room at bedtime, and avoid exciting programs in the hour before.

A warm bath can be used to signify the start of bedtime, followed by a story or soothing recorded music or lullabies. You can use white noise to block out the sound of TV or adults talking in another room. In fact, white noise is pretty good for blocking out most external noise, and can also be used for helping babies to get to sleep. White noise is also good for parents to use to block out the normal sleeping noises of children, but not too loud so as not to hear them when they are upset or are calling for you. Just as adults must take care of both themselves and their children during the day, they must also do the same at night.

The Importance of a Sleep Routine: The beginning of the paragraph above indicates how a sleep routine can help children sleep at bedtime. Certified sleep consultant Jennifer Schindele applied Dana Obleman's Sleep Sense TM techniques with her two daughters and outlined them in her article from Sleep Deprived to Sleep Revived on her Gift of Sleep Consulting website and blog.

What About Sounds You Cannot Control?

You can control some sounds that originate from your own house, but there are many types of sound that you cannot control, or can control only up to a point. Road noise is a common one. Loud music or TV from next door is another. A partner's persistent snoring is a common source of noise at any time of night. Then there are storms, ringing bells which we have mentioned, train noises if you live near a railroad, or you may live under a flight path. A slamming door is quite common! Some unfortunates have to suffer all of these and have no means of reducing or eliminating the noise.

You may believe that sleep and sound do not go together, but that is not quite correct. Here's why. Your brain is trained throughout your life to react to certain sounds indicating danger. Familiar noises, particularly those related to emotions (such as a hungry or distressed baby crying), are likely to be detected by your brain even if you are sleeping. They may wake you up, either slowly or suddenly depending on the sound. Other sounds that can induce stress in a sleeping brain include the screech of car brakes or a car horn suddenly blaring. A ringing phone is another, and so is an alarm clock - though some people might fail to react to that! All of these sounds are capable of causing a reaction in a sleeping brain. In many cases, sleep and sound are not compatible.

What Your Brain Hears While You Sleep

When you are asleep your ears still pick up sounds that occur during the night. These sounds are transferred to your brain which can hear noises while you are sleeping. As we fall asleep, unlike during waking hours, we are unable to consciously manage how our hearing becomes attuned to the environment. Our brains are vulnerable to whatever noises are picked up by our ears. According to the World Health Organization, this constitutes a health hazard.

That is because our ears, unlike our eyes, are permanently open. Whatever noises or stimuli reach our auditory channel are passed on to the brain to process. The brain may then respond in whatever way it deems suitable, which in itself is a health issue due to a noise-induced sleep disturbance.

Anything that disturbs our sleep must also disturb the ability of the brain to restore itself during the night. This, in turn, can impair our memory, judgment, and creativity among many other important brain functions. Read the entire article by Dorian Rolston in Scientific American, June 17, 2013.

How to Block Out Loud Sounds and Noise

Sounds that you hardly notice during the day can keep you awake most of the night. What you need is a means of blocking out these sounds plus those of barking dogs, loud music, television or radio, noisy neighbors, street noise, snoring, noisy hotel rooms, and others mentioned above. Here are some ways of blocking out loud sudden sounds and general noise.

Earplugs: Earplugs can do the job - up to a point. However, children don't like them and many adults find it difficult to sleep with them. There are other devices, however, that many people use and wonder why they hadn't thought of it before. These are. . . .

Sleep Headband With Headphones: This type of device is a sleep headband fitted with headphones that can sync to any wireless device in seconds with hands-free connectivity to wireless devices, including iPhone, iPad, Android cell Phones, Windows Phones, and more up to 10 meters (33 ft.) Hands-free calling and easy controls for volume, skip, pause, and play. Suitable for all sleeping positions. You can listen to music or recorded sleep sounds such as birdsong, sea sounds, running water, and other white noise that blocks out general and sudden sounds to help you sleep in a noisy environment. 10-12 hours listening per full charge.

White Noise Machines: White noise machines are ideal for blocking out sudden sounds such as slamming doors and general noise such as road or rail traffic and loud music or TV. They are relatively inexpensive and some can offer a range of different types of white noise. If you have a serious noise problem affecting your sleep it would likely be worth buying one. But what are white noise machines and how do they work?

White noise reduces the difference between normal background sounds that you don't normally notice and a loud sound such as a door slamming or a car backfiring. It is a constant ambient sound that you quickly get used to so that loud sounds seem a lot less noisy and are often ignored.

White noise machines are very effective at helping people get to sleep, and at preventing them from being wakened by a sudden loud noise. The Lectofan is an excellent example of a white noise machine, offering 10 fan sounds and 10 ambient noises such as birdsong and twittering and breaking waves. It is easy to turn off or adjust in the dark without having to pick it up or see it.

White Noise Videos

You can also get white noise videos on YouTube. Here is one with falling rain that should soothe you while trying to sleep, and one intended for babies, providing soothing womb sounds. These are single sounds, while the white noise machines mentioned above generally provide several different types of white noise sounds.

How to Manage a Noisy Bedroom

Some bedrooms are noisy and others very noisy. Some people can despair about how to remove that noise, particularly if there are several sources. A noisy bedroom can be very disruptive to sleep. Even if it doesn't wake you up, you can still be affected by noise. You can twitch, toss and turn in your bed, and though you may remain asleep, you might not feel refreshed in the morning.

You could place your bed as far away from windows and thin walls as possible. Earplugs are often effective if you live in a noisy environment and a white noise machine in your bedroom often works. It is difficult to eliminate all noise, and some are unavoidable. If you eliminate sources of bangs, thumps, and other disturbing sounds then you are most of the way there to creating a noise-free sleeping environment (i.e. bedroom!)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the more common questions that our readers ask us about.

Sleep And Sound: Fighting Noise and Sleep Disturbances

Sleep and Sound: Summary and Conclusion

Our study on sleep and sound and the effect of noise on sleep quality and sleep pattern has investigated published studies on sleep and sound, and also investigated how many other factors affect the quality of your sleep. We have concluded that the sound affecting sleep from almost all noise sources can be controlled in one way or another. If you manage the noise in your bedroom adequately utilizing technology such s white noise machines, and use our tips on how to block out loud sounds and noise, then you and your family should be able to sleep well in relatively noisy bedrooms.

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